Every year there will be a 2 Final questions before concluding the Shabarimala Devaprashnam...
" ee kollam ethara janangal vannu?" "How many people have come this year? "
with the number of devotees and visitors increasing every day, this question may get an answer around some lakhs or even crore in near future
The Ultimate final question -
"ethara bhakthanmaar vannu?" "How many devotees have come ?"
the highest number reached so far in 7 - Yes !!! Just "Seven"
Ofcourse we can very well take a credit and say Iam one among the seven.... But our inner self knows very well where we stand. The Shabarimala has already become a picnic spot and Vrutham has become a fashion. Mandala Kaalam is fast approaching and I have a long pending request about listing the actual rules of Shabarimala Yatra and Vrutham. First let me make it clear that Iam not a "big brother" to advise anyone... All I wanted to insist is - atleast let us make a sincere attempt to become one of His true devotees. He will take care of the rest.
There is yet another Golden Rule "Guru Vaakyam Pramaanam" - Guru's words are Final. But since there are certain common rules which are to be followed I am presenting these here so that it will be helpful for devotees who are really sincere in following the Vrutham and practices strictly.
(Swamis who wear maala and then smoke, drink and do all prohibited things - you are no way connected here. You too will definitely get darshan. But remember - You are not cheating your Friends & relatives; Ofcourse You CANNOT cheat Ayyappan; You are Cheating yourself)
All that I've learnt from my Grandfather, Guru and many other senior Guruswamys like Kambankudi Mama, Iam presenting the rules of Shabarimala Yatra. Iam not coming to the area "whether is it applicable in todays context?" etc etc.. These are the practices prescribed and Iam 200 % sure that It can be practised provided you dont go for a compromise. And still we have strict disciplinarians who follow it.
Maala Dharanam (Wearing the Mala)
Maala Dharanam is done generally on Kaarthigai 1st or any other auspicious day according to the date of the Yatra ie 41 days before the date of Darshanam. Maala Dharanam is generally done at ones home, Guruswamy's home, during a puja or at a common place of worship like temple
Maala Dharanam has to be done only after the permission of ones parents and wife(if married). Without their permission the whole yatra is futile.
And No spiritual practice is successful without the blessings of a Guru. Especially the whole concept of Shabarimala Yatra revolves round the phenomenon called "Guru". So after the blessings of Guru one has to wear the Mala through "His Own" Guruswamy. (iam stressing from "his Own Guruswamy" - because Iam seeing many "Seasonal" Guruswamis whose only job is to - stand in front of any Ayyappan Kovil; give a loud "Swamiye Sharanam Ayyappa"; put the mala in the persons neck and collect Dakshina without forgetting)
The Guruswamy who is going to take you to the Yatra is the only person who is authorized. An alternate practice is wearing the maala from one's mother's hand in the presence of Guruswamy. (some of us follow the practical of doing the avahanam of Ayyappan in the maala - Iam not entering that area now)
For a married woman - the only person authorized to give the Maala is her Husband an no one else(Not even the seniormost Guruswamy). Only in the case when the husband is not alive, the lady can approach any other elders to wear the maala.
Vrutham means being nearer to God. All your activities should be Ayyappan Centric during the Vrutha Kaalam.
The number of days for a complete Mandala Vrutham is 41 days and anything below that is only secondary. Throughout the Vrutha Kaalam, Contemplating on Lord Ayyappa should be the only focus of a devotee.
Taking bath twice a day, doing atleast a simple puja and calling out Sharanams is his daily duty.
Eat to Live and do not live to eat - Food must me minimum and that too for the sake of health and not for variety and taste. The food taken should be Sathwick - that do not harm the body and the mind. Not only non vegetarian is prohibited, Rajasic Food which are more spicy and Thamasic food like Garlik, Onion etc are also prohibited. And ofcourse eating any outside food other than puja is strictly prohibited (This includes hotel and even marriages) A person in vrutham is not advised to attend domestic functions like marriages. He is prohibited from attending any funeral or similar rituals.
Donot enjoy any luxuries to the body - all the practices of Not Shaving, Not Sleeping in the bed, Not wearing footwear is to stress this point.
Maintain Celibacy with its pristine purity not only physically but also mentally - this is the reason one is advised no to show interest with Cinema, Drama (and Now Television also). Even his own wife is Maaligaipuram after he wears the Maala.
Those who have the upanayanam must strictly follow the Sandhya Vandanam and Gayatri Japam. Without this the total vrutham is a waste.
Annadhanam and Puja
Annadhanam is one of the primary duty of Ayyappa Bhakta. This was insisted because one must see Ayyappa in every living being. But unfortunately it has become a ritual.
Many Guruswamis demand the disciples to compulsorily conduct a puja in their house and feed all from their group. There is nothing wrong in the practice if person can accord it. By feeding His devotees The Lord will definitely be happy.
But for those who cannot afford - feed any single deserving poor person with whatever possible food. The Lord will be pleased with this act.
One need not expect any invitation for any Ayyappan puja and can very well attend any puja and help for the puja to the maximum extend possible.
Calling everyone as "Ayyappa" or "Swami" should come from heart and not as a mere ritualistic word. Callout the Sharanams only during appropriate occasions and Sharana Gosham should not disturb any Puja activity.
Guruswamy and Gurudakshina
The whole concept of Sabarimala revolves round Guru - without him no yatra gets fulfilled. Guru is like your father or mother. You cannot change your Guru as per your convenience. I still know devotees who go to Sabari yatra along with their Guruswamys for more than 35 years. ( And there are also people who become Guruswamys directly in the second year !!! )
Here talking about the qualifications of a Guruswamy - He takes you to the Lord; He is leading you towards the divinity.
So in order to show your graditude towards him we need to pay Guru Dakshina to the Swami and do namaskaram to him. Its practice that a sishya has to pay respects to his Guruswamy and pay him Guru dakshina 8 times during the sabarimala yatra.
1. The first time when the Guru formally accepts him for the sabarimala yatra
2. While wearing the Maala
3. While taking the irumudi - Kettu Nerai
4. At Erumeli after the darshanam while starting the yatra
5. At Azhudha river
6. At Pampa after the snanam and while starting
7. At sannidhanam after the abhishekam
8. While removing the maala
It is the duty of every Ayyappa bhaktha to follow all these rules strictly and earn the grace of Guruswamy and thereby get the blessings of Guruswamy's Guruswamy(Lord Ayyappa)
Kettunerai is a unique process of sabarimala yatra. One has to be very careful and devoted in this aspect. Only person with whom you have Karmic Relations can fill the rice in the Kettu Nerai. The Nei should be filled only by the devotees and no one else. All the results of your Vrutham is instilled in the Coconut and the Ghee you are carrying. So please be strict when others come forward to fill the Ghee or Rice.
Ive already written in detail about this
And irumudi is the very form of Ayyappan. So please give utmost respect to irumudi. Iam not elaborating on this because at times its heartbreaking to see people even urinating having irumudi in their head.
The eighteen steps are eighteen divine forces guarding the Sabarimala Zone. By climing these steps you are actually stepping into the zone of the deity. So only your Vrutham gives you the Strength to cross over the Holy Eighteen Steps. All others without Vrutha Balam earns the wrath of these devatas.
And One has to climb the 18 steps only once during one sabarimala yatra. Once you climb the steps with the Irumudi and see Lord Sastha - you have reached the destination; your goal is accomplished. Even the Nei Abhishekam is only the next task.
Removing the Maala
The Sabarimala Vrutham ends only when you reach back home keep the prasadams at your house show a Karpoora Harathi and then take the prasadams. Only after this one has to remove the maala. (not at Sabari peetam or Pamba - Just like that removing the maala and immediately going elsewhere)
Swami is always with us - ready to give us whatever we want. Following the Vrutham with utmost sincerity will definitely fetch something more than what we want -the result will be Ayyappan himself.
Two more requests
And along with all these, though not in the Vrutham rules, also make a strong Sankalpam regarding 2 aspects:
1. The thousands of devotees who come to sannidanam are also the very form of Sastha. We dont know the quantum of devotion of any Bhakta and who is dear to Swamy.. So please donot cause any disturbance or uncomfortable feeling to any devotee...
2. Make sure that the greenery of Sabarimala is not disturbed by us. Do not throw any plastics or any other garbage at sabarimala zone. Do we spit inside our house? But we do everything in Sabarimala. Its the abode of the Lord and to keep it clean is the first service to the Lord than anything else.